On Sunday, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett held up a cell phone photo of a search commander holding a ring they believe belongs to still-missing Champlain Towers South resident Dr. Brad Cohen. A bracelet made by Cohen’s 12-year-old daughter, whom Burkett saw praying by herself days after the collapse, adorns Burkett’s left wrist.
But the ring is being kept in a Miami-Dade Police property and evidence section at the site of the collapsed tower, which demonstrates the dual significance of belongings found in the rubble — possessions of varying personal spiritual, sentimental and idiosyncratic importance are also parts of a potential crime scene.
“The work is still so delicate that we’ve even found unbroken wine bottles in the rubble and recovered them,” Burkett said.
Even as recovery crews continue to scour tons of concrete and steel in search of victims and catalog debris to help determine why the building fell, Burkett said they are also in contact with families and, with the help of a detailed diagram of the building, attempting to recover items of personal and religious significance.
So, there’s the care of having rabbis “come in around the clock,” Burkett said, to identify objects of faith so they can be handled in accord with that faith’s guidelines.
“It can be the smallest thing,” Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Ramirez said. “To a common person, it can just look like a little container, but it really means [something to] generations. It’s very spiritual. Our officers are learning so much about culture. There’s so many dynamics here with the sadness and the sorrow, there’s a unity component. We respect that and honor that.”
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Still, that’s all taking place in a makeshift part of a police station. While rabbis have been allowed in to examine personal items, Ramirez said it “wouldn’t be prudent” to share samples of concrete from Champlain Towers South with the engineer hired by Surfside to examine Champlain Towers North. He said the department must follow its investigative procedure.
Also, the area won’t become a lost-and-found department at any point. The returning of material possessions won’t be as swift as survivors or heirs just stopping by with a description of their stuff.
“As we move forward, there will be an estate process,” Ramirez said. “And, then, those who are the survivors, their property as well, whatever we can recover, those will be returned. I know we have a database in place, where family members can upload not only their missing family members, but property and photos. All that is being cataloged.”
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